The new year of 1862 did not start well for Oliver Case. He was stuck aboard the schooner “Recruit” in Annapolis Harbor being used as a hospital ship for soldiers in Burnside’s expeditionary force awaiting their orders to sail for the coast of North Carolina. He continued to suffer episodes of ague, a condition involving fever, chills, and what he termed as “shakes.” Oliver’s condition had passed by the time he writes a letter to Abbie on the 7th of January 1862 and he is acting as a medical orderly assisting the physicians in various ways plus pulling guard duty.
However, this letter is the most heartbreaking of any of the letters of Oliver Cromwell Case that I have read. Oliver and his shipmates are only hours from sailing for their first combat experience against the Confederates in North Carolina, but the young soldier must express the deep grief to his sister. As he writes his sister, Oliver is in a time of immense misery having just experienced what he calls “the most sorrowful time that I ever witnessed.” In the period of just a few days during the first week of the new year, Oliver has lost two of his friends in the regiment. As mentioned in earlier letters, both Duane Brown and Henry D. Sexton have been ill with trips to the hospital while still in the training camp at Annapolis. It seems Brown was suffering with “measles and the Typhus Fever” while Sexton had what Oliver called “jaundice.” Henry Sexton had succumbed to the condition at noon on the day Oliver wrote to his sister and Duane Brown appears to have died just a few days before at a hospital ashore and was buried the day before Sexton’s death.
I will quote large portions of his letter beginning at this point because I think Oliver describes the experience so well.
Sexton was a little worse Sunday, but not so bad, that he was around. He said that if he were at home he should be sitting in the rocking chair writing but as there was no place to sit down he kept his bunk. I prevailed upon the Dr. to have his bunk changed to a more comfortable one Sunday night and Monday morning I talked with him. I thought that his mind wandered a little. I left him about two. In the morning he was not conscious and repaired nearly all day in the stupid state.
From this point, Sexton’s condition takes a horrible turn for the worst.
About three he had a spasm and rushed out of his bunk. I had no control of him as he could handle me like a child…It was very difficult to get anyone to take hold of him as they seemed to be afraid of him. It took five of us to hold him and keep him from tearing his face with his hands. He would bite at us and froth to the mouth, making a horrid noise all of the time. I stayed over him twenty four hours in succession before his death. I never saw anything so horrible in my life and if it had not been for the sailors I do not know what I should have done.
Oliver is very dissatisfied with the medical care his friend received while on the ship and does not mince words.
He never has had any care upon the boat from the Dr…He used to come around in the morning and ask him how he did – tell him to cover up and keep warm – perhaps give him a pill. He had only his own blanket and lay down upon the lower deck where it was very cold, damp, and close and where it was an impossibility to keep warm. I used to give him my blanket when I was on guard and when he could not get warm got into the berth with him. I tried all I could to have the Dr. convey him to the hospital Sunday when I began to see that he was getting worse. He also begged him to be carried there and he finally promised that he might go the next day, but the next day was too late. With even ordinary care he might have got well in a short time.
Oliver does not want for his sister to share this experience with “anyone whatever” because he “never felt so bad in my life as when I saw that here was no hopes of his recovery.” Then comes the heartbreaking portion of the letter that shows the devastation of Oliver’s loss. He tells Abbie that “It seemed as though I had lost the only friend I had with me.”
In Oliver’s moment of deepest grief, we gain a glimpse of the source of sustainment for him and the reason to hope for his friend Henry.
But thanks be to God what is our loss is his gain. He was prepared for the final change. Only the day before he was taken unconscious he remarked that there was only one thing that supported him during his illness at the hospital, and now when he got low-spirited, “The religion of Jesus Christ was his sustainer.”
Oliver then turns to the death of Duane Brown but uses only one paragraph in his description as he was obviously not a witness to his passing.
Duane went to the hospital Sunday with the measles and the Typhus Fever set it, and carried him off. He had the best of care at the hospital, as good or better than he could have had at home. Everyone that has been there speaks of the excellent care, accommodations, food etc. that they get there.
Oliver gives a Abbie a brief report on his duties aboard the ship but quickly returns to conclude by relaying the aftermath of his friend Henry’s death.
I got another man to write to Sexton’s wife for I could not do it at the time. I telegraphed this morning…We put all of Henry’s things in a box and sent by express. They would not let me help pay the expenses because they said that I had done my part by being with him all the time.
Almost anticipating the concerns of his sister, Oliver closes this sad story with another comforting note.
Sexton died easy but unconscious.